Women Climb Africa’s Highest Mountain for a Cause

20 October, 2018

A group of six women decided to climb Africa's highest mountain in an effort to bring public attention to a physical condition they share.

The women suffer from albinism, a genetic condition in which a person's skin, hair and eyes lack pigmentation. One of the main signs of albinism is lighter-than-usual skin color. Other signs can include white hair and pink eyes. Many people with the condition also have problems with their eyesight and are extremely sensitive to sunlight.

The six women set out to climb Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this month. The Climb for Albinism aimed to raise the visibility of women with albinism. They wanted to prove that women with the condition are not afraid to face difficult challenges.

All the climbers say they have suffered discrimination and abuse because of their albinism. There are widely held stereotypes about the condition in some African nations. Some of these are based on incorrect beliefs or superstition.

In some countries, women who give birth to babies with albinism are rejected by their husbands and families. Sometimes children with the condition are not accepted by their parents. Many children and adults with albinism are socially rejected.

Regina Mary Ndlovu, Maah Koudia Keita, Onyinye Edi, Nodumo Ncomanzi, Mariamu Staford and Jane Waithera at a press conference in Nairobi, Sept 27, 2018.
Regina Mary Ndlovu, Maah Koudia Keita, Onyinye Edi, Nodumo Ncomanzi, Mariamu Staford and Jane Waithera at a press conference in Nairobi, Sept 27, 2018.

Nodumo Ncomanzi was one of the climbers. She told VOA that growing up in Zimbabwe, discrimination for people with albinism was not as bad as in some other countries. However, she said she suffered regular abuse.

"I was very much made fun of at school. I was harassed typically in public in just walking across the street."

Even with these problems, Ncomanzi graduated from Yale University in the United States and now works in education.

Mount Kilimanjaro is 5,895 meters high and is a difficult climb for anyone. But reaching the top can be even more difficult for people with albinism.

Ncomanzi said she never faced extreme physical conditions like those she experienced during her climb of Kilimanjaro. They included having to deal with intense sunlight and having problems seeing along the way, Ncomanzi said.

Another climber was Mariamu Staford. She said she faced major problems throughout her life because of albinism. In one incident, she was attacked in her home by a group of men who cut off both her arms.

Now, Staford runs her own business in Tanzania. She said one problem she sees is that discussions of albinism in the media often deal with "victimhood and pity." She hopes things like the Climb for Albinism can help change incorrect images of people with the condition.

"We wanted to show that we are more capable of accomplishing and succeeding in challenges that go far beyond the stereotypes that we are usually attached to."

Four of the climbers reached a camp at 4,700 meters before deciding to stop on medical advice. The other two - Ncomanzi and her Kenyan teammate Jane Waithera - continued the climb. But Waithera had to stop 20 meters short of the top because of a knee injury.

So in the end, Ncomanzi was the one to represent the whole team. She reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro on October 7.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Henry Ridgwell reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

pigmentation n. substance that gives something color

sensitive adj. easily damaged or hurt

challenge n. something difficult that tests someone's ability or determination

stereotype n. an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular quality

superstition n. the belief that particular actions or objects are lucky or unlucky

harass v. to annoy or bother someone in a constant or repeated way

typically –adv. in the usual way; usually

pity n. a strong feeling of sadness or sympathy for someone or something

accomplish v. succeed in doing something